Read all about how ‘Mad’ Marvin Rettenmaier got his name in part two of of no-holds-barred interview
In part two of our exclusive chat with Germany’s young poker sensation, Keir Mackay gets to the root of Marvin Rettenmaier’s ‘Mad’ nicktag.
I Like Your Balls
‘The “Mad” nickname was a PartyPoker thing,’ Rettenmaier eventually explains as we reconvene at TGI Fridays the next day. ‘I was called “Mad” before I joined the team, but by the team if you know what I mean,’ he says with a big grin on his face. ‘Going out with the PartyPoker people was always a lot of fun. Sometimes, it was lots and lots of fun. There are some stories knocking about, but I can’t think of any right now,’ he adds, winking. For now, Mad Marvin seems likely to stick after shots of Rettenmaier and his rail at the WPT Championship decked out in those ‘U MAD?’ trucker hats were beamed round the world following his win. It’s a name he likes. ‘The German media called me The Entertainer, and the Spanish called me Bolas Grandes,’ he says, holding back a chuckle. ‘It means Big Balls. I like Big Balls, but I’ll take Mad Marvin every day.’
Late Marvin. ‘I’m organised with some things, like business stuff that I care about,’ he say as the waiter arrives with a mountain of steak, ribs and prawns. ‘But I’m late a lot, it’s terrible. Especially in poker. I should be smart enough to stop being late. Even today, I was 20 minutes late for Day two of the Main Event, and that’s something I care about a lot! I’m not trying to be disrespectful to other people, I just, I dunno. It’s always been bad.
Once, I managed to show up late for my France Poker Series final table in 2011, but they waited for me as it was on TV. I got lucky,’ he says with a cheeky smile. As Rettenmaier grinds his way through a mountain of meat, stopping only to throw out another quick-witted answer, it’s clear he’s not your typical mid-twenty-something grinder. He shows more personality in one smile than some of today’s online generation can manage in pages of forum posts and it’s his ‘Entertainer’ label, not ‘Mad’ nor ‘Balls’, that seems more apt. In recent years, moans have echoed through poker that youngsters are killing the game, that a lack of personality in today’s up-and-comers will only damage poker in the future. But Rettenmaier’s an exception to the rule. He grew up watching ‘endless reruns of WSOP shows on Poker Tube’ and when I ask who his idols were, it wasn’t the Iveys or proven winners, but players like Scotty Nguyen and Humberto Brenes because ‘they were fun’. ‘They weren’t necessarily the best players, but I still think poker should be something that people want to watch,’ he adds, wiping his mouth with a napkin. ‘Negreanu’s a good example of an entertaining pro as well. Hellmuth has got this crybaby factor, which is awesome, the Devilfish is one of my favourites and Robert Williamson has got to be one of the funniest guys in the world.’
So what’s more important to him, being known for his personality or his poker ability? ‘Don’t get me wrong. If I’m at the table up against professionals and there’s a lot of money at stake, I’m not going to be the class clown,’ he adds, flashing another smile. ‘I should probably win a couple of titles first. Then I can muck about.’ Family matters, Rettenmaier wasn’t always a poker player. His rise up the ranks of poker has been more by accident than any grand plan. He was a promising student who studied in Wisconsin and Germany, before spending some time in San Diego. He currently lives in London, and each place has left its mark on him. His impeccable English is spoken with an accent that is a mix of American and German.
Before turning pro in 2010, he was busy studying, and even as late as last year he was still thinking that he should probably do something in the business world after getting his degree. ‘My father is a big businessman and he put a lot of money into my education and I thought that was the right thing to do,’ he says. ‘But then at some point I was just like, well, poker is a lot of fun and I can really see myself doing my thing. I decided after I already had a big, big year that I wasn’t going to go pro, then at the beginning of 2010 I went to Vegas for a couple of weeks to play live and see how it goes. It went pretty good.’
A first sponsorship deal with Titan Poker wasn’t far behind and he admits the poker world quickly ‘sucked’ him in. ‘I remember the days when I was grinding online, but I can’t even remember if I ever thought I wanted to be a pro,’ he continues. ‘It just happened. I never thought about it. It was something that seemed far away. Then boom, boom, boom and it’s a reality.’ For his parents, though, a life lived in casinos and at the online poker tables seemed a long way from their hopes and he says it was initially hard to take. But his consistency on the tables proved too good to ignore. By 2010, Mad Marvin decided that he didn’t really care and that his parents would either support him or that they hopefully would later on in life. As a peacemaking deal Rettenmaier vowed to finish his degree, despite not attending classes too often, and that was enough.
‘I think they would have been very unhappy about it if I had dropped out,’ he adds. ‘My dad was really, really supportive and my mum is especially supportive. If I double up in a tournament, she knows before I do. She follows everything and tells me about my table draws all the time.’ Luckily for his parents, he can see a life beyond poker. Although, it’s not exactly what they might be expecting. ‘If at some point I have a lot of money, I can see myself having an unsuccessful band and travelling around the world playing small bars,’ he says. ‘Then again, I kind of want to have a family as well, and those two aren’t the best mix. Well, unless I get her and the kids to play in the band like some kind of poker Osmonds.’
It’s not the first time I’ve heard talk of Rettenmaier’s musical talents. A day before our first meeting, those behind the scenes at PartyPoker shared tales of him cracking out the guitar, or sitting at the piano singing a drunken tune. Who knows, there might even be a poker supergroup in the pipeline?
‘I’m already thinking of making a little band in the poker community,’ Rettenmaier beams. ‘Liv Boeree is a sick guitar player, along with the Devilfish on the saxophone. I’m more of a vocal man, with a little bit of guitar and piano. I might do some stuff in the future, but I need to end this summer first.’
When I ask if he’s got any other hidden talents, a smile isn’t far behind. ‘I’m a pretty great chicken dancer,’ he laughs. ‘And, I can beat my grandma at mini-golf. She turns 80 next week, but I put her in her place.’
With all his success, you would forgive him for being eager to get out there and win tournament after tournament. But over the two weeks spent chasing him, it becomes clear that he’s had enough of tournament poker, for now at least. There was no time to celebrate his WPT World Championship success before being thrust into the World Series, and it was something of an anticlimax for Rettenmaier in Vegas. Instead of hyperbole about what lies ahead, he shares glimpses of the downsides that can dog professional players, especially in Sin City. ‘Right now, I’m happy to get out of Vegas and take a little bit off,’ he sighs. ‘I love it, I’m very competitive and I love playing poker to make money, it’s a dream. I would do it for free. But you always have your ups and downs, and playing tournament poker there’s more downs than ups.
You win one in 200-300 tournaments maybe, and even if you get second you’re still not 100% satisfied. There was a time when I was happy to get fifth, but in general in poker, it’s hard to be happy.’ As our interview comes to a close, Rettenmaier’s shoulders start to slump as he contemplates heading back to the Rio to try and grind his mid-stack past the money bubble.
It’s clear he’s drained. The WPT win is long forgotten as he sits in the booth of a TGI Friday’s gently picking at the cracked leather on the chair although he freely admits that the upsides to being a poker pro are ‘obvious’. ‘You’re playing cards, for fun!’ he adds. ‘It gets frustrating, but then again you get used to it as well.
When I bust a tournament two years ago, I would be furious compared with now.’ Sadly, our time has come to an end. Once again, Rettenmaier has to run off to do his day job and tosses another $100 to me for dinner as he gets ready to leave. With barely enough time for one final question I ask him what he does next, half expecting grandiose tales of bracelet wins and EPT success. ‘I’m going to celebrate the whole summer when this is all over with my grandma,’ he beams.
‘I’m flying straight from here to Majorca for her birthday. We’re going to make it a big party. I’m a very big fan of my grandma, she’s the coolest person to me.’ With that, Rettenmaier gets up, shakes my hand once more and heads back to the Rio smiling as ever. He would bust the Main Event a day later, but it just meant he finally had time to relax and practice his putting.
A few weeks later he was back at the tables, relaxed and rested at WPT Cyprus decked out in his trademark ‘U Mad’ hat. He went on to win, becoming the first back-to-back WPT winner in history. Just another day in the life of poker’s newest superstar. The band might have to wait for a while. This kid is just getting started.
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